Drew Sheneman, the award-winning editorial cartoonist for The Star-Ledger since 1998, opted to take a buyout offer in the wake of possible staff layoffs and salary reductions. He spoke to me about why now was the right time to walk away, and what he thinks the future of the profession will look like.
So you decided to take a buyout from the Star-Ledger. You survived one round of cuts. Why leave now?
It just seemed like the right time. I’m 35 years old and over the past few years it became increasingly obvious that I wasn’t going to make it to retirement as a staff cartoonist. I figured now would be as good a time as any to start reinventing myself and figuring out what’s next.
Will you continue to draw cartoons for The Ledger as a freelancer? Will you still draw for your syndicate?
The Ledger has been extremely generous and offered me the chance to freelance two local cartoons a week. I produce a full page comic strip for our monthly magazine InJersey which I’ll continue, as well. I’m also going to keep syndicating my national cartoons. In reality, my work load won’t change all that much in terms of the number of cartoons I do. What will change, quite drastically, is how and when I do them. No more commuting, no more edit board meetings. If I want flop down at my drawing board in my underoos and bang out three cartoons in a day, freeing up the rest of my week to pursue other work, I can do that. And when I say ‘pursue other work’ I mean playing Xbox.
What will you miss most about the job?
I certainly won’t miss the actual work, because I’m going to keep on doing it. I’ll miss the people. It’s a lot different drawing from home while listening to the Cartalk on iTunes, when you’re used to the sound and feel of the newsroom. It’ll probably take a little while to adjust. On the upside, I don’t have to worry about HR finding out what I’ve been downloading on my computer.
What was the most memorable moment during your time at the Ledger?
Memorable moments…hmmm… There was the first time a marching band came through the newsroom towing a six foot hot dog. I say ‘first time’ because it’s now an annual event. There was watching the staff kick into action on 9/11. There was the excitement in the room when the paper won it’s first Pulitzer (photographer Matt Rainey won for his excellent work on “After the Fire” a series about the aftermath of the Seton Hall dorm fire).
But, most memorable was probably the day Governor McGreevey came out on national television. We sat there huddled around televisions and in offices watching this event unfold and no sooner were the words “I am a gay American” out of his mouth that the room kicked into gear and everyone busted there ass covering that story. Another memorable moment was months later when that same staff received the Pulitzer for breaking news coverage of the McGreevey story.
What do you plan on doing next?
I plan on continuing to draw editorial cartoons for as long as someone is willing to print them. Beyond that, there are a number of different fields of illustration I’d love to take a whack at. I’d love to write and illustrate a children’s book, for example. Maybe do some work in animation or film and video game concept art. There are all sort of interesting outlets for an illustrator to express themselves through, it’s convincing someone to pay you that’s the tricky part.
What are your opinions about the future of editorial cartoons? Where do you see the business model going?
First and foremost, the editorial cartoon isn’t going anywhere. It’s been a vital form of opinion and satire for hundreds of years and will continue to be for many, many more. But, we’re back to that convincing someone to pay you thing. In terms of the business model, I think cartoonists will move towards a freelance based economy. To a large extent, that’s already happened. I think editorial cartoons will be one of a variety of things an artist will do to earn a living. Hopefully I’ll be able to figure out a way to make a living that still involves me getting up and drawing everyday. If not I could always become a Somali pirate.